Brooklands Centenary of British Aviation Day


In the Air
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To celebrate the first 'hops' by A V Roe in his Avroplane, Brooklands held a special event at the museum in conjunction with Mercedes Benz World. Simon Fenwick reports for Flightline UK. All photography copyright of Author

All the museum buildings were open for examination, though the 'Wellington Hangar' had been cleared of some of the airframes so that their engines could be given a run.

It was good to see the excellent progress being made on the Hawker Hurricane that was rescued in terrible condition from Russia. The airframe now seems substantially complete, whilst the engine is being refurbished to ground-running status by Rolls-Royce Heritage. There is still a shortage of a propeller to complete what will be a magnificent restoration.

Brooklands builds Avroplane Replica

8th June 1908 saw the culmination of a long period of effort by Alliot Verdon-Roe when he made the first of several ‘hops’ in his Roe 1 biplane. From that first effort was born the company which went on to provide us with such aircraft as the 504 biplane trainer and of course the immortal Lancaster and Vulcan bombers.

To celebrate that first hop, it was decided by Brooklands to build an airworthy replica of the Avroplane. The 15-strong team was led by 23-year old Steve Green who’s day job is an avionics engineer for Virgin Atlantic.

In deference to the fact that modern materials have been used to satisfy current airworthiness needs, the replica has been named the Avroeplane to distinguish it from the original – it bears a very suitable registration G-ROEI.

Building of the replica started in December 2006 and has been completed in an amazing 18 months. The original bamboo used for the fuselage of the original has been replaced by aluminium (painted to look like bamboo!) and though modern fabric has been used on the wings, it is still hand-sown just like the original linen.

To create a safer ‘flight’ than the original, various updated techniques were added to give more stability and these were tested through the use of specially constructed radio-controlled models.

However, in spite of these modernisations, strenuous efforts were made to keep the replica as close to the original as possible, - even down to replicating A V Roe’s mistaken belief that lift was generated from below. The mainspars are therefore sited on the sings top surfaces where they actually disturb the airflow over them.

The biggest change is to the engine and propeller. A V Roe started with a 9hp JAP v-twin before installing a 24hp Antoinette. As the replica requires certification, even for a ‘hop’, the team decided on a well proven Great Plains flat-four engine. This is a modified VW unit and produces about 60hp. Then there was the propeller. To test the whole unit, a rig was built up to which the motor could be bolted, the whole thing being mounted on the rear platform of a Morris Minor pick-up. This allowed the team the luxury of being able to test not only the engine but also various propellers.

Although the engine was started up in public for the first time at the Centenary event, there is much still to do to prepare it for the ‘hops’ It is planned that these will take place at Old Warden in July and then at Farnborough and Dunsfold.

The Vickers Viking airliner had been taken out of the hangar and was sitting alongside Concorde G-BBDG which was a delight to see on this gloriously sunny day.

Immediately outside the doors of the hangar are two of the most recent additions to the collection. These are the fuselage of VC-10 G-ARVM, which came from Cosford and which will eventually become an education centre, and the mock-up of a fuselage of an Avro Lancaster. This was built for use in the BBC drama 'Night Flight'.

There were two series of ground runs of some of the museum's aircraft. As if to show that the replicas of the oldest aircraft lived up to the traits of their illustrious forebears (and in spite of the fact that they had run faultlessly the previous night), the Demoiselle refused to start in the morning and the Bleriot refused all efforts to start up.

However by the end of the afternoon, the public had witnessed the running of the tiny little Demoiselle, the Sopwith Camel and Kronfeld Drone. We were also treated to the wonderful sight of a frame mounted Rolls-Royce Merlin 32 and a trailer mounted Alvis Leonides both being run up amidst clouds of smoke.

At this point though, that vintage motor racing showman, Chris Williams brought up his Bentley which is powered by a Napier Lion engine. This car never runs with silencers but merely has open pipes which are about 6" diameter and only about 12" long! The sound is certainly an assault on the senses. Belching smoke and massive flames on the overrun, the crowd were delighted with this display of power. In fact there is a plate in the cockpit stating “This car is the ultimate laxative!”

However, this was not the end of the engine runs. Last on the list was the wonderful Vickers Vanguard (or more correctly Merchantman as this was the cargo version of the airliner). Most, including me, thought that they would just be powering up one of the Tyneturboprops. We were proved wrong! In the morning there was a minor problem with No.2 but the other three were started up to great applause. It was in the afternoon that the hairs were standing up on the back of the neck. The problem had been rectified and we were treated to the sight and sound of all four engines running on full song. Having not heard this wonderful music in what must be more than 25 years, to witness this at such close quarters (no more than 25ft away) made for a very emotional occasion. During the two runs a total of 60 gallons was burnt off, but apparently there are still another 200 gallons in the tanks so more runs are promised.

During the break between the two series of runs, we moved to the 'Avroshed' where Prince Michael of Kentcut the ribbon to commemorate the refurbishment of the replica of A V Roe's first aircraft.

It was the machine that was sat outside that many wanted to see. This is a running replica of the Avroplane and the engine was started in public for the first time at this event. This beautifully built machine, which was created by a team led by 23-year old Steve Green, has been named the Avroeplane due to the fact that some modern materials have been used. It was planned that on the following day, it would make some taxying runs on the actual centenary of the day that A V Roe made his first 'hop'. (Full details are in the separate item)

At the end of the afternoon, everyone moved to a viewing area overlooking the Mercedes Benz World test track. We were treated to the sight of a few aero-engined cars being put through their paces. Obviously these included the famous Brooklands owned Napier Railton and also Chris Williams in his Bentley Napier, smoking the tyres as often as possible. In addition there was a Berliet powered by a Curtiss V8 engine and a wonderfully 'original' GN with a JAP aero motor. The field was completed by several Bentleys and to the delight of many of the children a lovely Ferrari sports car.

The day ended with a generally Brooklands themed air display. These included Sopwith Pup and Triplane from the Great War Display Team, Historic Aircraft Collection's Hawker Nimrod II and Peter Vacher's totally authentic Hawker Hurricane I.

Vanguard Engine Runs

The Vickers Vanguard (actually a Merchantman cargo variant) at Brooklands has fully opertional engines that are run in public from time to time. Sadly her new position within the Museum grounds means she can no longer move around under her own power.

Due to several planned items not appearing, not the least of which was the Vickers Vimy replica which is now owned by the museum and based at Dunsfold which had a technical problem, some ‘extras’ were added to the programme. These included Mervyn Hiscock Rearwin Cloudster, an Auster V and a rather nice Bell 47G.

To relive the days of the barnstorming '20s Team Guinot displayed one of their Boeing Stearmans with Danielle Hughes on the wing. Representing the engine side of Brooklands there was Andrew Dixon's Percival Pembroke. This is powered by two of the Alvis Leonides engines that we saw running earlier in the day.

There was one item though which held the crowd in awe. This was the North American P-51D Mustang 'Jumpin' Jacques' owned and flown by Peter Teichman. This was a truly stunning display which brought a huge round of applause and a good few cheers from the spellbound watchers.

All in all a great celebration of a momentous event in British Aviation.

On the ground
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